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ISSN 0281-9864 

The Controlling Function of the Agent 
in the Analysis of 
Question-Response Relationships 

Inger Bierschenk 

Lund University 


Cognitive Science Research 

The Controlling Function of the Agent 
in the Analysis of 
Question-Response Relationships 

Inger Bierschenk 

1987 No. 19 

Communications should be sent to: 
Bernhardt Bierschenk 
Department of Psychology 
Paradisgatan 5 
Lund University 
S-223 50 Lund, Sweden 


In contrast to traditional linguistic analysis, a model based 
on the empirical Agent is put forward and tested. A text is regar- 
ded as an intentionally produced cognitive process. The analysis 
has to take the Agent (perspective) into account in order for an 
adequate processing of its Objectives (viewpoints) to come about. 
Moreover, the model is surface-oriented and assumes the cognitive 
relevance of an utterance to be defined by the dynamics of the text 
production and not by artificial semantic criteria. The model has 
been tested on responses to questionnaire items constructed by a 
multinational industry. The responses were produced by 35 randomly 
selected subjects from England, Italy, Sweden, West Germany, and 
the United States. The differences were tested for power of normal 
curve test of P.. = P- via arcsine transformation at a = .05. By 
Agent control of the question-response relationship, differences 
in coherence could be demonstrated. English and Swedish workers 
showed a significantly higher coherence with the perspective of the 
industry, whereas Italian, German, and US workers take up their 
own Agent function in their response behaviour. 

The following presentation aims at discussing a novel ap- 
proach to language analysis. A frame of reference will first be 
given, which connects to traditional linguistic discussions in 
the sense that the examples are fabricated. In the description of 
the qualitative difference between the traditional analysis and 
the one proposed, the examples are taken from natural text, that 
is, verbal utterances produced in a natural situation. The work- 
ing material is Swedish, to which a literal translation into Eng- 
lish is given. 

The Sub.ject in the Linguistic Context 

A central notion in linguistic analysis of language is sub- 
ject . The subject may be of three kinds, logical, grammatical, and 
psychological. (The grammatical category formal subject will not 
be referred to here.) The logical subject is defined according to 
semantic criteria, e.g., the one who acts in the clause. The anal- 
ysis of grammatical subject is based on syntactic-morphological 
criteria and may be identified as that about which something is 
said. For example, adjectives and some verb forms are inflected in 
congruence with their grammatical subject. The psychological sub- 
ject is bound to the initial position of the clause and is said to 
stand for the psychological attention. The variability of the notion 
subject is illustrated by the following three Swedish examples: 

Forskarna diskuterade medvetandet (1) 

(The researchers discussed consciousness) 




Medvetandet diskuterades av forskarna (2) 

(Consciousness was discussed by the researhers) 

grammatical logical 


Medvetandet diskuterade forskarna (3) 

(Consciousness discussed the researchers) 

psychological logical 


Example (1) is a kernel sentence, whose main components are 
realized in exact correspondence with the model, SVO. This means 
that the interpretation, the deep structure, coincides with the 
syntactic organization, the surface structure. Example (2) is a 
passive transformation of ( 1 ) . The task of a transformation is to 
reform a deep structure to a surface structure without changing 
the deep structure, which carries the cognitive meaning of the sen- 
tence. This is marked in (2) by the logical subject. Thus the deep 
structure of ( 1 ) and (2), and the surface structure of (1) are iden- 
tical, while the surface structure of (2) is different. Example (3) 
is the result of a transformation in which the object has been to- 
picalized and the subject has been degraded. The initial element 
now is only a psychological subject, while the grammatical subject 
has followed the logical according to criteria that are not trans- 
parent. There is no syntactic-morphological criterion that motivates 
the analysis. The inflected form of the verb is the same after the 

In the absence of manifest criteria for identifying the " true " 
subject in sentences like (3) some other basis of interpretation 
than the cognitive has to be considered, that is, presuppositions. 
This means that the linguistic context plays a part for interpreta- 
tion, as does also the linguistic intuition. If the sentence is to 
be analyzed as isolated from previous ones, that is, presuppositions 
are inadequate means, then the analysis of (3) should be conceived 
such that the logical and grammatical subjects both are analyzed 
according to semantic criteria. A pure syntactic analysis does not 
seem possible. Obviously it has to be denied that consciousness may 
be a subject in a semantic or syntactic sense. The primary basis 
for this conception is our common sense of the " objective world " , 
which tells that consciousness is something abstract, which cannot 
be acting and thus not perform anything that could be called dis- 
cussing. Any objections from the poet or the introspecting novelist 
would not be acceptable, because everybody knows that those text 
producers deal with fiction. The conception of consciousness as a 
true subject is simply counterintuitive. 

One foundation for this semantic position is case theory (Fill- 

more, 1968). This theory defines which cases can be realized for 
types of verbs represented in case- or argument frames, which are 
part of the lexicon. The bearing argument for case specification 
is the logical distinction between Animate and Inanimate. Thus the 
frame for the active transitive verb discuss specifies the sub- 
ject to Animate and its case is called Agentive or Agent. It is 
likely that consciousness would be classified as an abstract In- 
animate, which implies that its case name must be looked for on 
the next higher level, probably Objective or Object. Several case 
theories exist, underlining the fact that any unambiguous knowl- 
edge of the world cannot be referred to. It is also clear that the 
analysis tends to be obstructed in relation to the abstractness of 
the language level. The difficulties lie in the requirement of in- 
terpretation, that the deep structure sense must be tested against 
the surface structure. It would totally change the situation if 
the linguist could control the producer of the utterances and ana- 
lyse his/her subjectivity with objective instruments. Existing me- 
thods are based on context free sentences in order to function op- 
timally for objective analyses, which has as its consequence that 
the linguist's own subjectivity is slipped into the analysis. This 
methodology is also applied on texts but is no easy way depending 
on the amount of combinations to represent. 

Intuition is a central concept in theoretical linguistics. 
One could say that the collective meaning hierarchies which seman- 
tics provides for the language elements constitute the stereotyped 
intuition, that is, a frozen convention. The task of linguistics 
sofar has been to establish rules for the way in which the conven- 
tion is used in language perception and production. Only when the 
language connotations are followed, the meanings of utterances will 
be correctly interpreted by the language community. Thus language 
as convention is a central label, too. But at the same time hardly 
anyone today would argue that human language is something else than 
a natural phenomenon, which grows with every person's development. 

The concept of natural language and research related to it has 
attracted special attention because of the existence of formal lan- 
guages, computer languages. Within artificial intelligence in par- 

ticular, it seems important to stress that natural language (as 
opposed to artificial) is simulated. The entire computer line in 
language research has come very close to an invalidation of the 
difference between living and non living systems (B. Bierschenk, 
1986; Bierschenk 8c Bierschenk, 1986 a). AI researchers (winograd, 
1983) have caused many linguists to act as if they believed that 
an elegant procedural solution of a sentence analysis, a so called 
parsing, is the explicit explanation of the human interpretation 
process (cf. Dresher & Hornstein, 1976). It now seems as if the 
procedural sequencing of formal analysis has become convention in 
the description and explanation of the way in which people pick up 
verbal information. Sofar no serious discussion; goes on about the 
counterintuitive in equalizing naturalness with conventionality 
(cf. Pereira & Warren, 1980), as if a natural behaviour could not 
exist under the conventional surface. We rather should ask ourselves 
if naturalness is not discovered and lifted up the best way when 
the convention is known. 

The linguistic model to be presented here constitutes a refor- 
mulation of this question into an assumption. It is a model in 
which consciousness is the true governor. The primary prerequisites 
of the model are the following: 

1. Language and text are expressions of the intention (Agent) of 
somebody acting, and cannot be isolated from this point of re- 

2. The surface structure reflects the cognitive relevance directly. 

3. The cognitive relevance is defined with reference to the Agent, 
and not to any objective world criteria. 

Expressions of the Agent in Natural Language 

In the continuing text, examples will be given from authentic 
material in which an official of the Swedish public sector gives 
his view of his work situation in a natural discourse. The text, 
which has been analyzed in its entirety (Bierschenk & Bierschenk, 
1986 c) begins with the following sentence: 

Titta pa hur installningen ar idag (4) 

(Look at how the attitude is today) 

The formal analysis shows that the sentence contains two verbs, 
each of which requires a subject. The attitude is the subject of 
the clause beginning with how , whereas any subject of look has not 
been expressed. The conventional analysis method assumes that an 
imperative sentence like this is the result of a transformation 
from a statement like You shall look . This means that we have to in- 
vent a logical subject, which may be you in the natural situation. 
The person referred to by you is assumed to be the person who is 
being requested to act by the verb and can therefore be specified 
as Agent. The object of the looking is the clause that follows. But 
how to interpret it? The verb i_s does not denote anything active, 
so the attitude cannot have the same status as you . It is not an Ani- 
mate either, rather an Objective. The verb is, is called a copula, 
connecting a nominal with its attribute. The interpretation of the 
clause should be that it is identical with the attitude today . By 
that the clause is no clause. 

A problem that remains to be solved concerning the correct 
analysis of the real situation is that the factual reference of you 
must be unambiguously identifyable. The interviewed person makes 
the following utterance further on in the discourse: 

Man maste alltsa, om man tar det politiska jobbet, fa 
(One must thus , if one takes the political job , get) 
jobba med fragor t ex i ditt bostadsomrade, som 
(to work with matters e.g. in your living area , which) 
jag overhuvudtaget kanner att jag berors av. Pa det 
(I on the whole feel that I am effected by. In this) 
sattet kan du skapa ett engagemang som du sen kan 
(way can you create a commitment which you then can) 
fora vidare till storre fragor. 
(carry further to bigger matters.) 
It seems to be an unsurmountable task to specify when the factual 
referents of the personal pronouns coincide and when not. Instead of 
assuming that the speaker intends to refer to particular individuals, 
it is more fruitful to assume that he mixes the pronouns because 
any individually different Agents do not exist in his mind. He 
takes the others' perspective and presumes that they would do the 

same regarding this theme of discourse. Several X-, you- , and one- 
variables take the same standpoint. Thus only one I_-referent de- 
fines the text. With this view we do not need to presuppose that 
the Agent of look is some you with a factual referent but that, 
instead, any you might take the same standpoint as the Agent, as 
for example the reader who was not present at the moment of produc- 
tion. The Agent is determining the perspective. By taking the Agent 
function into consideration in the analysis of the expression, we 
are not dependent on a deep structure testing. And, after all, that 
is the way the text functions in perception. That which acts is the 
intentionality of the Agent. 

It is very likely that the use of verbs may be seen as a simi- 
lar textual phenomenon. It is logically impossible that the verb 
look can be followed by something as abstract as it really does. 
But despite that the verb is unconventionally chosen, it functions 
adequately, that is, as a bridge between the Agent and that which 
he wants us to focus upon, his viewpoints. So why would we need to 
presuppose that is in a natural context would have a strictly logic- 
al meaning? It is more natural to regard it as a bridge by means of 
which the Agent lets the attitude act towards today . The Agent is 
the subordinated factor through which the viewpoints of the text 
are described and related. Each time the Agent uses a verb it is an 
expression of an intent to shift the perspective. The shift is mani- 
fested in what will be termed textual agents. The attitude is the 
first textual agent through which the Agent comes into view. 

The textual agents are explicitly present in the text in such 
a way that every clause has an explicit textual agent or a copied 
one. The Agent is implicitly present and is introduced into the 
text by certain particular formulations. The convention lying in the 
syntactical or morphological variation is the key to the presence 
of the Agent. But not any variation. Four prototypical formulations 
reveal the Agent, namely (1) the imperative, which has been dis- 
cussed, (2) the direct question or similar formulations operating 
by indicators termed clause openers, (3) the passive, and (4) the 
topicalized formulation with preposition as operator. The distin- 
guishing of the Agent (perspective) and the Objective (viewpoints) 

(I. Bierschenk, 1984 a) may be exemplified as follows 

(X) Titta pa hur installningen ar idag 
((X) Look at how the attitude is today) 
A a 0( A a 

(x) ska jag (x) hjalpa kommunen 

(X) shall I (X) help the municipality) 



Folk tas in som gisslan har nagon gang 

(People are taken (X) in as hostage here some time) 
a A 
nar det behovs (x) 
(when it is needed (x) 
a A 

Pa det sattet (X) kan du (x) skapa ett engagemang 
(In this way (x) can you (X) create a commitment) 

A a A a 





Every verb (a = action) implies a complete A-0 relation (Bier- 
schenk & Bierschenk, 1976). In (5) the A-0 of the subordination is 
copied up into the former clause, at the same time as it constitutes 
an independent relation. The examples (6) and (8) show how the 
Agent is copied down to keep the perspective constant. In (7) the 
morphological variant of the verb gives the information that the 
Agent shall be marked. Concerning the identification and differenti- 
ation of the O-component, see I. Bierschenk (1984 b). A contrast ive 
analysis of the imperative (5) was the point of departure for the 
discussion (4). The following discussion will concentrate on the 
other three. 

In terms of transformational grammar, the finite and infinite 
verb have the same subject and therefore the surface structure is 
regarded as a transformation. This type is called EQUI-NP deletion. 
A grammatical analysis of the direct question presupposes that a 
permutation has operated between the subject and the finite verb 

and that a question morpheme by means of some transformational 
stage would be the marker for the place of the deep structure sub- 
ject. A grammatical analysis has no other possibility than rely- 
ing on syntactic positions for determining the categories. The syn- 
tactic-morphological variation is identified by a so called posi- 
tional scheme, which became one of the descriptive instruments of 
structural linguistics. However, this scheme should not be under- 
stood as a Kantian schema but as a frame (B. Bierschenk, 1981; I. 
Bierschenk, 1984 a), that does not allow functional variation. 
Table 1 presents the difference between statement and question (6) 
when arranged into the position scheme valid for the main clause 
in Nordic languages (Diderichsen, 1962). 

The positions are arranged into fields, underlining the phy- 
sical orientation of the model. The positions showing variation are 
the fundament and the nexus subject. The fundament may be a subject 
or an adverbial, which, again, demonstrates that some kind of seman- 
tic specification is presupposed. In the case of a Yes-No question 
the fundament is empty, while by Wh-question it is filled with the 
Wh-element (clause opener in the present model). The statement shows 
that the subject is to be found in initial position. Teleman (1962, 
p 46) interprets Diderichsen 1 s description of the fundament as a 
placeholder where certain constituents may be moved " from their 
normal position " . The normal word order characteristic of the state- 
Table^. Positional analysis of statement and question 
according to Swedish word order 

Fundament Nexus Field Content Field 



v s a V S A 



(not) help 



shall I 



Shall I 




Note , v = finite verb, s = nexus subject, a = nexus adverbial 
V = infinite verb, S = object, A = adverbial complement 


ment with the subject in the fundament would then be the result of 
a transformation from the deep structure. However, Diderichsen does 
not talk about transformations, and it is incorrect to discuss the 
realizations of positions in process terms, because it blurs the 
model. The advantage of the position scheme in linguistic descrip- 
tion is due to its character of control instrument. The observation 
that certain constituents sometimes shift their position may corre- 
late with various extralinguistic factors but cannot be explained 
by them. 

The function of the fundament as a cue to a correct placement 
of different clause constituents according to the prescribed order 
in the scheme is indisputable to anyone who has tried. Its simila- 
rity with the psychological subject ( 1 , 2, 3) is obvious. Because 
of its forming function it lies beyond a theoretical description, 
since any semantic description of the initial position seems im- 
possible. For instance, what similarity is there between Why and I 
in Table 1? 

A position scheme is static. The physical basis of the model 
may be expressed as (I. Bierschenk, 1984 a) 

S ^ V -*- (9) 

The object determines the statement, that is the predicate. Any 
responsible subject is not supposed to have influence on the state- 
ment but only to be associatively linked (nexus) to it. The model 
reflects the fact that, historically seen, the wills of the gods 
(omens) have been the only possibility of humans to state something 
and, consequently, to understand something about their world (B. 
Bierschenk, 1986). with consciousness of the personal responsibi- 
lity the subject could be expressed in language, which distinguished 
the environment from the consciousness of it. In physically based 
models of science, any subject is not allowed to enter into the de- 
scription of the environment. This view is convention in linguistic 
analysis, too. There exists independence between subject and predi- 
cate. All verbal expressions are analyzed as predicates, that is, 
as if no responsible " expressor " existed. The AaO model the way 


it is described in B. Bierschenk (1984) and Bierschenk & Bier- 
schenk, (1986 b) brings out the responsible Agent through the func- 
tional relationship between the components: 

A โ€” a โ€” -0 (10) 

A functional analysis prerequires a steering mechanism to represent 
the dynamic and process-oriented aspects of natural language. This 
mechanism gets its expression by the verb. The AaO model is a struc- 
tural schema in the true sense. This means that even though the 
components are not always manifested, they are discoverable through 
the verb, since they are always present. Example (7), the passive 
formulation, gives the information that the schema is realized in 
the OaA order by the passive marking morpheme of the verb. 

The passive is generally conceived of as one of the most basic 
transformations in which the deep structure object is moved to the 
position of the subject. The object position is filled by the sub- 
ject, whose semantic meaning of Agent is marked with the preposition 
by . Agent deletion may afterwards be applied, by which the new ex- 
pression implies an Agent in final position. It shall be recognized 
in spite of unnormal position. Thus Agent marking is morphological 
in a double sense, while the syntactic criterion is subordinated. 
When applied on (7) the following change in formulation might be 

Kommunen tar in folk som gisslan har (11) 
(The municipality takes in people as hostage here) 
nagon gang nar kommunen behover det 
( some time when the municipality needs it ) 

Folk tas in som gisslan har (av kommunen) (12) 

(People are taken in as hostage here (by the muni-) 

(cipality) ) 

nagon gang nar det behovs (av kommunen) 

(some time when it is needed (by the municipality)) 


This example (12) is atypical in connection with traditional 
exemplification. Usually examples are of the type John kissed Mary 
โ€” ยป- Mary was kissed by John . The natural text example indicates 
that an Agent cannot be directly generated through the by-insertion 
after a passive verb. In both clauses there are formulations which 
make the Agent phrase unexpected or almost ungrammatical. The lo- 
calizing adverb here may be said to be used with the purpose of 
specifying the Agent to the organization in whose offices we find 
ourselves at the moment . The general pronoun it. (formal subject) 
gives the impression that the organization in an abstract sense is 
referred to and not any distinguishable person. It is a bit diffi- 
cult to even add an Agent to this formulation. 

In recommendations concerning written composition in school, 
it is often said: Write in the active mood. Passive formulations are 
difficult to be successful with, since they easily lead to wrong 
presuppositions of the Agent. On the university level the advice is 
the opposite: Write in the passive mood. A scientific conduct requi- 
res distance between text and Agent. The passive is used in all con- 
texts in which the Agent should not be made conscious for the lis- 
tener/reader. The obligatory insertion of the Agent that is made by 
perspective analysis (7) does not imply a complementary addition of 
a surface structure. It is not a question of filling a position. 
The (X) is a controller of the point of reference of what is being 
said so that the viewpoints can be discovered. The placement of (x) 
therefore is unimportant. 

It deserves to be pointed out once again the relationship bet- 
ween the lexical meaning of the verb and its textual function. The 
verb shall not necessarily be associated with the Agent, despite 
that the passive marking morpheme ties the two components to each 
other. The convention is a supporting factor here but does not in- 
vite to a literal interpretation. As in the case of pronouns, (x) 
can in one and the same text refer to more than a certain particu- 
lar source. But here, too, it is fruitful for the analysis to re- 
gard the variable (X) as the component which controls that the per- 
spective is invariant. The information that people are taken in as 
hostage (7) is mediated as the Agent's own perspective, but also as 


the perspective of the municipality which he represents. The sta- 
tistic analysis of the perspective of the interviewed person has 
demonstrated, however, that the Agent's and his organization's 
perspectives are incoherent. As a consequence of the experience of 
functional fixation (Bierschenk & Bierschenk, 1986 c, p 14), the 
Agent's cognitive process ends up in liberation. This person has 
left the public sector to start his private business. 

To conceive of the passive formulation as a transformation 
does not seem natural (Broadbent, 1977). The passive has very few 
instances in the present text material, which otherwise is richly 
varied. Some grammatical marking of the Agent with by_ is totally 
absent, so an example construction does not make any sense. Example 
(12) gives a hint that the passive should be regarded as complete 
in its surface structure formulation and that only one morphologic- 
al criterion is applicable to identify the Agent. In a construction 
with a passive verb combined with a grammatical Agent the by-phrase 
should be conceived as a subcomponent of the Objective, termed 
Ground (I. Bierschenk, 1984 b) and denoting a point of orientation. 
The prototypical function of the preposition is to be generally 

The formulation in example (8) is the result of a topicaliza- 
tional transformation (3), to speak in traditional terms. Thus to- 
picalized formulation denotes the surface phenomenon only. The term 
is connected with the topic-comment distinction in discourse anal- 
ysis. Topic has a fundament status syntactically and marks the given 
or known information in the discourse while comment denotes the new 
or unknown information. An even more marked distinction is that the 
determination of topic can only be made context dependent ly, that 
is, in the referential development of the discourse. 

To identify a topic in a kernel sentence (1) is uninteresting 
if not impossible. The initial prepositional phrase has a topic- 
like function and is fairly similar to the psychological subject. 
But to be identified, it needs not be regarded as an adverbial 
phrase topicalized from the deep structure, and no morphologically 
marked reference to known information from preceding clauses is 
needed either. The preposition is the direct cue to the presence 


of the Agent. It contextualizes the Agent, which means that the 
Agent emerges against a background of some empirical experience or 
lets the textual context form the frame of reference for the con- 
tinuing development of the process. 

The process develops after the verb where the function of the 
prepositions is to differentiate between viewpoints and decide their 
cognitive function. Experience builds on this differentiation pro- 
cess. But all experience does not become integrated so that the 
Agent can formulate it conceptually. The contextualization (8) is 
an expression of this kind of non-integrated experience. In the anal- 
ysis of texts of considerable length, the differentiation of the 
Agent component brings out more information. The imperative and the 
passive formulations thus express the unconcealed, undifferentiated 
Agent who encourages the listener/reader to make experiences. The 
direct clause opener formulation is an expression of Experience (6), 
since without experience one cannot whether ask questions nor re- 
late observations in time. The prepositional topicalization is 
named Context. Both components are subcomponents of the Agent. 

Expression of Integration 

There exists a systematic difference between the way in which 
integrated and non-integrated experience get their verbal expres- 
sion. Where the Agent is present in the formulation, integration is 
not expressed. If instead a textual agent is formulated, this im- 
plies a higher degree of abstraction, which means that an integra- 
tion may be formulated. The abstraction is the prerequisite of the 
formulation of the conceptual (cognitive) function of the Agent. 
In the text, the following example can be found: 

Jobbarna i tva grannforetag skiter (13) 

(The workers in two neighbour companies don't give) 

i varandra 
(a damn in each other) 

What has been verbalized between the textual agent and the verb 

is a postpositional attribute, grammatically explained as a reduced 

predicative in a relative clause, that is, who are to be found in 


two neighbour companies . The relative clause formation implies a 
formulation in which the subject in a subordinate predicative is 
deleted when it is identical with the subject of the main clause. 
The copula, which should be as contentless and static as possible, 
underlines the spatial sense of the preposition: neighbour compa- 
nies contains the workers . This semantic representation remains 
after the reduction according to the principle that the deep and 
surface structures are semantically symmetrical. 

Transformation is here used in the sense of movement or trans- 
fer, where the change is of a positional nature. When used in a 
functional sense, however, transformation denotes a change from 
differentiation to integration. By that, change is related to de- 
gree of abstraction, which is asymmetric, and not to a raising of 
hierarchical level. Moreover, a functional transformation is not 
derivable. The orientation expressed by the preposition when func- 
tioning in the differentiation process is changed to the specifica- 
tion of the textual agent concept. Thus the textual agent should 
be conceived as a non-divergent whole, that is, a fact, whereas the 
elements in a process produce information that might give rise to 
facts. That a text is characterized as meaningful depends on the 
textual transposition that the elements undergo. In this process, 
which we may call the cognitive process, experiences and contextual- 
izing expressions have the function of differentiating it. By con- 
sidering the Agent's way of differentiating his standpoints, the 
structure in his viewpoints becomes specified. 

A rule system has been developed (Bierschenk 8c Bierschenk, 
1986 b) and algorithmically tested (Bierschenk & Bierschenk, 1986 c). 
Ten rules out of a total of fifty identify and differentiate the 
Agent component, that is, five process rules and five supplementa- 
tion rules. 


This study considers the textual relationship between a ques- 
tion item and its unrestricted responses in a questionnaire investi- 
gation. This relationship differs markedly from a dialogue situa- 


tion in that an interaction cannot take place. The responding per- 
son has no possibility to share the intention and takes very easi- 
ly a passive role towards the questioning person. Of course this 
effect depends to a high degree on the methodology as such, which 
implies that the subject is objectified and treated as independent 
of some identity. But the reponse behaviour is also conditioned by 
the way in which the question has been verbally formulated. This 
factor has to be accounted for when the subjects are given the free- 
dom to answer with personal formulations but respond curtly and re- 
actively nevertheless. Many questionnaire constructors are unaware 
of the fact that by a certain formulation they may steer the sub- 
ject to formulate itself coherently with the constructor, that is, 
to give its view from the perspective of the constructor, something 
that needs not be the purpose of the investigation. With this back- 
ground the following hypothesis has been formulated: 
Hypothesis : Response behaviour is an expression of a subject's 
objectified perspective of itself. 


Subjects . The subjects in this study make up a random sample 
of 35 mechanics drawn from an investigation of about 3000 persons 
from Europe (England (e), Italy (I), Sweden (S), West Germany (G)) 
and the United States (US). The workers are employed by a Swedish 
multinational industry. The analysis builds on the responses of 7 
persons from each country. The numer is based on the circumstance 
that only 7 Swedish responses were usable. Therefore the same num- 
ber of persons was randomly sampled from the other four countries. 

Materials . The responses used are taken from a questionnaire 
distributed to the 3000 mechanics by which they have answered 
questions about their work situation. Question items nos. 4, 5, and 
6 in the form have so called unrestricted response alternatives and 
concern the workers' conduct towards information related to their 
job function. The responses to the three items taken together have 
been analyzed elsewhere (Bierschenk 8c Bierschenk, 1987). For this 
study question item no. 5 has been selected. It is the most general 
one of the three and includes the other two contentwise. Further, 
the responses are the most varied to this question. It reads as 


follows in the four languages represented. (The industry is re- 
sponsible for variations due to translation. ) 
Question 5 
E/US Do you have any suggestion how getting information to you 

can be improved? 
I Hai qualche proposta su come migliorare il sistema di tras- 

missione delle informazioni al personale d'officina? 
S Har du nagra ideer/forslag pa hur informationen till dig 

kan forbattras? 
G Haben Sie einen Vorschlag, vie man die Nachrichteniibermitt- 

lung zu Ihnen verbessern kann? 
The ways in which the mechanics take up the questions are exempli- 
fied with one response item from each country. The responses may 
be longer than what they appear here. 
Response examples 
E Yes, by telephone 
US All mechanics used to receive bulletins for our looseleaf 

I Di farle piu semplificate (To make them simplier) 
S Utbildningstimmar pa arbetstid (Instruction hours during 

work time) 
G Ich bin mit der Nachrichtenubermittlung zufrieden (I am 

pleased with the news transfer) 
Design and procedure . In the following analysis the question- 
response relation is regarded as textually bound. Responses with- 
out an A-component are treated as subordinated to the question in 
the sense that it constitutes a conceptualized O-component. Its A- 
component is thereby assumed to be identical with the Agent of the 
question, which is the operational definition of coherence here. 
Responses formulated with an A-component are regarded as expressions 
of integrity. To illustrate the method by which the Agent component 
has been controlled, Table 2 gives the question in its English ver- 
sion together with the responses quoted above. The use of the func- 
tional schema shows some systematic variations. The presence of the 
Agent implies the infinite verb form. The subordination needs not, 
as in this case, be marked with to(di) . The response Send a few 


Table 2 . Analysis of question-response relations by- 
Agent control 

A a 

(X) Do you have any suggestions . . . 

Yes,(x) (a) by telephone 

All mechanics used to receive bulletins . . . 
Di (X) farle piu semplif icate 

(X) (a) Utbildningstimmar pa arbetstid 

Ich bin mit der Nachrichteniibermittlung 

veil trained instructors into the field namely gets the same anal- 
ysis. A left-out verb always implies an Agent, while finite verb 
covaries with a textual agent. A verbless response is assigned to 
the O-component regardless of whether it starts with a preposition 
or not. The principle here is that no textual element can be regar- 
ded as a contextualization (8) or an integration (13) as long as a 
verb does not mark a perspective. The response Yes , conditioned by 
the question type, has the same function as to, that is, to be the 
start operator of the response. In all the responses in fact a Yes 
is implicit. Thus as single response to the question, Yes would 
have been nonsense information. The responses of question no. 5 
have been analyzed according to the schema presented in Table 2. 
Only the first conceptualization of the responses has been of in- 
terest, since the respondent's way of taking up the question is ob- 
served initially. 


34 out of 35 subjects have given a response to question no. 5. 
The missing response belongs to the English text. For a comparison 
between the responses, the proportion coherent responses of the 
number of responses per country was measured. The result is presen- 
ted in Table 3. As the Table shows, there is a clear difference 
between England and Sweden on one hand, and Italy, West Germany and 
the United States on the other. A test of the proportional differ- 


Table 3 . Textual coherence between question 

and responses in European and American text 









United States 


West Germany 


ence at a = .05 shows that the power of the effect size is/J= .87, 
which is a considerable contrast (Cohen, 1969, p 183). The result 
shows that the English and Swedish mechanics objectify themselves 
when responding, while Italian, West German and US mechanics sub- 
jectify themselves, that is, they take advantage of their Agent 
function in their response behaviour. 


The purpose of this article has been to highlight the Agent 
concept as steering component in linguistic analysis of language 
and text. An Agent-based analysis prerequires that the text produ- 
cer's intention can be incorporated into the model, which makes 
the model functionally operating. This has as its consequence that 
traditional grammar, as also its transformational variant, cannot 
be used to explain utterances, since they are based on a positional 
outlook. Further, the Agent model is surface-oriented in the sense 
that it is the perspective in an utterance that is directly read 
out of the verbal formulation. The relevance of the representation 
does not have to be interpreted, which is the traditional way of 
synthesizing, with the linguistic point of reference in semantic 
objective world criteria. Through a strict application of the func- 
tional operations of the model the empirical Agent's perspective 
on the viewpoints (0-component) developed in the text emerges. 


Moreover, the analysis distinguishes the dynamic (transpositional) 
changes taking place in the development of text by making visible 
in the presentation the Agent's shifting degrees of experience. 
One such distinction is the direct question, in which the Agent 
occupies the A-component, compared to the case when an integrated 
concept takes the Agent's function. 

When the model is used in the analysis of question-response 
relations this distinction becomes visible in such a way that cer- 
tain responses relate to the perspective of the question (coher- 
ence) while others express an individual (integrated) perspective. 
The result of the analysis shows that English and Swedish workers 
to a considerably higher degree than Italian, West German, and US 
workers respond to the industry's question as if they conceived of 
themselves as objects in the situation, in that their perspective 
is coherent with that of the industry. That they do not take advan- 
tage of their Agent function should be seen as their expression of 
not taking up any independent standpoint. Their response behaviour 
points at a more frequently used habit of subordinating themselves 
to an authority. It is noteworthy that only England and Sweden are 
monarchies and have strong labour unions. It is moreover a known 
fact that Sweden is strongly centralized and that the subjects of 
this society have been used to rely on " the strong society " in 
matters of great concern. 

Another study using this material, although for a different 
purpose, has shown (Bierschenk 8c Bierschenk, 1987) clearly distin- 
guishable differences in mentality between these five countries. 
While Swedish workers show a passive conduct towards information 
from the industry and English workers are critical to the mediation 
of information, the interest to learn and to reach mastery in their 
jobs were typical of Italian, West German and US workers, as also 
their wish to contribute to constructive cooperation with their 
employer. Thus the analysis has confirmed the hypothesis that the 
taking up of an object role can be read from the formulation of a 
quationnaire response. The result illustrates (1) the importance 
of formulating question items so that the responding person will not 
be unintentionally steered to the objectification of himself, and 


(2) the possibility to discover by means of Agent control the psy- 
chological reality as it is formulated directly in language. 


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